Crossing the Divide to Speak Truth to Power
Konqistador is a project that was born in Melbourne by two Canadians who now reside in Detroit, Michigan. They later picked up English-born and Sydney-based producer INfest8.
Their latest effort, Nafada , is an album with a concept focused on giving voice to female performers. Konqistador decided to engage women who were performers challenging this status-quo in their home countries, offering a collaboration for them to get their voices out and stand against not only patriarchy in the Middle-East, but give hope and inspire a creative rebellion in the marginalised Muslim community in the United States.
Nafada is at times a scathing rebuke of the way women have been treated, such as the aggressive ‘Eden, Woman’s War’, featuring Tunisian born Medusa TN. It’s a track that is rooted in a primal beat and invokes the anger of generations of women constantly being stepped on.
Other tracks on the album take a more measured approach, but the band and featured singers don’t compromise on the power of what is being presented both musically and in terms of messages of justice / reclaiming power taken from them. ‘Adrestia X Soultana’ almost sets the tone for the rest of the album that fuses an almost industrial / electronic sound with hiphop, something that’s been difficult to pull off for other bands.
Nafada features vocalists:
Medusa Tn (Tunisia)
Salome MC (Iran)
Meryam Saci (Algeria)
Miss Undastood (USA)
Insights reached out to the band to chat about the album and the experiences they had in bringing together such a challenging piece of work.
With Nafada , what was the catalyst that brought about the decision to pursue feminism, social justice issues, and especially ones that affect some of the most oppressed women in the world? Not just that, but seek out and work with artists from these areas to give them a voice and platform like this?
Nafada was really inspired by circumstance and our view of the indignation of women in crisis regions combined with current U.S. anti-Muslim rhetoric, the rise of a resistance movement and our duty to our local Arab community here in Detroit, Michigan (the largest Arab and Arab-Muslim community outside of the MENA region). Here in North America, artists have the freedom to express without fear while in places like Algeria, Tunisia, Iran and Morocco women can be banned for performing music or worse, they could be jailed or killed. Our extensive travels overseas throughout Northern Africa and those artistically censored regions was eye-opening for us and it was the start of us understanding the enormous challenges women artists face.
Two years ago I didn’t think we had another full length album in us… What story could Konqistador tell that would speak to the injustice happening in all corners of the globe? The reason, the purpose, the ‘why’ was right in front of us. We decided if we were to be the authors of an album that would resonate and make impact, we would hand the torch over to female artists from censored regions so that they could have a voice and tell their stories. Not only would it mean we share the songwriting process but also open ourselves up to the genre of hiphop which we quickly learned is the genre of resistance in many artistically censored regions of the world.
There are tracks that are giving space to a rage from these amazing women you’ve collaborated with, and the place where this is at its most ferocious is Eden, ‘Woman’s War’. How does it feel helping people speak truth to power like this?
It feels amazing and it feels purposeful. ‘Eden, Woman’s War’ was the first track we wrote and produced for in collaboration with Medusa Tn. She was the first artist to join our project. She took a leap with us and essentially became the first to advocate and inspire those artists who subsequently joined the Nafada project.
When we initially reached out to Medusa, she had recently left Tunisia to start a new life inFrance with her family…While doing research on Arab female hip hop artists we discovered Medusa’s brave activism video, a street march filmed in Tunisia amplifying the ambitions and dreams of Arab-Muslim African women and the challenges with obscurantism.
Did you encounter any difficulties in pulling this particular project together?
We certainly did experience difficulties making the album. Everything from censorship, frequent internet bans, delayed file transfers and some artists that would stop responding for days because they were dealing with unthinkable challenges in their homelands.
We had to remain patient and understanding…Language barriers often slowed our processed down but we wouldn’t let it stop us from producing album that is multi-lingual and inclusive no matter how much we drifted further and further away from anything that would be deemed a ‘commercial release.’
How do you manage to record an album when all of the participants are living in different parts of the world?
Without the internet, this album would have been virtually impossible to complete. Generally, INfest8, Lizzy and Reggie would develop a musical idea, which could be anything from a looped theme to a more-or-less full blown song structure, and send that out to a featured vocalist to work with. Lizzy’s vocals were completed in Detroit, with our featured vocalists recording all over the place – Istanbul, France, Morocco, Iran, etc. Those vocal files were all generally collated by Reggie in Detroit before being transferred to INfest8 in Sydney where they’d be worked into full tracks. Then we’d have a back and forth where ideas would be exchanged on how to develop the tracks into what would end up as their final form. For some tracks, this process was smoother than others.
The whole process was very different to how you’d expect songs to be worked up in a traditional band and traditional studio environment. With our featured vocalists, their parts were submitted as a fait accompli, and there was little to no opportunity to re-record. That said, all the vocalists involved with the album are incredibly talented and it was a real privilege to work with them, and we’re so lucky to have the technology to overcome the limitations of geography. Despite none of us ever being in a studio together at the same time, the whole production process felt very intimate for me.
How do you feel about the idea that it is an artist’s imperative or responsibility to be a voice of resistance or subversion in times like these?
It’s a double-edged sword. There’s tremendous freedom met with heavy responsibility when you as an artist decide you want to carry the torch of resistance. I have self-doubt, like am I even worthy to tell their story, do they want me to? Will people care? Will questions about appropriation come up? I don’t think Konqistador will ever stop asking these questions. They’re necessary questions and we tend to find the answers from our collaborators with their ongoing fight to uphold women’s rights and the incredible responses Konqistador has received on Nafada from supporters from around the world.
Konqistador’s Nafada and their previous releases can be found at their Bandcamp page